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Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part I: “THEY ALL SAID I WAS MAD!”

Note: I link to some products here, but I’m not getting compensated for anything. Trust me, I don’t think any of these companies actually wanted to be associated with this idea.

This was not the post I planned to write.

This was not the week any of us planned to have.

Let me start from the beginning.

Neither my S.O. nor I have family in the area. I left the house I grew up in pretty much the second I was legally old enough to do so, and have moved wherever the wind blew me more times than I can count. He left home for college and job opportunities, to pursue his dreams. The end result is that we’re here pretty much alone, though his family has always been just a phone call away when we needed them. Unfortunately, this awesome family sustained a terrible loss.

Tl;dr: With pretty short notice, we had to find a way to get to a funeral in Mississippi.

We looked up plane tickets — $857 worth of no luck.

We looked up Amtrak — 44-odd hours of no luck.

He didn’t want to be away from home for too long if he could help it. I didn’t want to leave our cats alone if I could help it. We’ve had them for a little over a year and, in that time, we’ve discovered that Pyewacket needs more daily mental stimulation than a human toddler, and Kiko has separation anxiety that will make her try to destroy doors and hit the road in a bid for a Homeward Bound-esque reunion. Since they are both rescues, we also didn’t want to put them through the experience of being taken and dropped off in a kennel-like boarding facility. We also haven’t had to use a sitter in the past, so we didn’t really have anyone we knew well enough to trust them with.

(By the way — If anyone tells you cats are independent creatures, laugh at them. Laugh the high, gibbering laughter of the mad.)

We love them, but they are weird, weird animals. Ultimately, we decided that the simultaneously-most-sensible-yet-most-ludicrous solution would be to take the cats on a road trip.
Yeah, I know.

Two cats. Five states. One car.

It should be noted that these nerds hate being in carriers. They had a vet appointment for some boosters and a general yearly checkup two days before we left, where they sat in the waiting room growling at each other, Pye hissed at everything, and the vet came right out and said, “Yeah, this trip? It’s a pretty bad idea.”

Nevertheless, I kept on keeping on with my dumbass plans.

I’m not gonna lie, this was a long, strange journey. My S.O. was a surprise pallbearer. We visited a rad occult shop in Memphis. Mississippi poisoned our car. I’m going to have to break this up to keep it from turning into some kind of novella.

Cat relaxing in a car harness.

Pye relaxing on one of my S.O.’s old dress shirts.

So! How did we manage to make it through five states to Mississippi and back with a pair of questionably enthusiastic cats? We were fortunate that taking a road trip with pets was actually easier than either of us anticipated, as long as:

  1. We ditched the carriers. Well, not entirely — we used a combination of chest harnesses and pet seat belts to secure them in the car, and saved the carriers for transporting them to and from the hotels. As I figured, they responded way better to the car ride when they were not confined and could see us and what was happening around them.
  2. We made sure they had the right harnesses. Some cat harnesses fasten around the cat’s neck and stomach area. These are alright for walking a relatively docile cat, but not super great in a car scenario — if you stop short, all of the pressure is placed on their throat and stomach. Opt for harnesses that cover the cat’s chest, so pressure is distributed more safely.
  3. We gave them litter box access at all times. Our basic setup was this: Pye buckled in the back seat behind me, a litter box secured in the middle, and Kiko buckled in behind my S.O. The cats’ seat belts gave them just enough slack to hop in and out of the box easily, but not hassle each other. A combination of World’s Best Cat Litter and regular scooping at rest stops kept things odor-free.
  4. We worked to make sure they drank enough. My ex-boyfriend has a cat that developed about $2000 of bladder issues and scared us half to death in the process. Ever since, I’ve been somewhat fanatical about making sure everyone gets enough water (especially male cats. Their longer urethrae make them more prone to blockages). Our guys have a fancy fountain with a filter to encourage them to drink enough, but bringing and using it in the car wasn’t really an option. Cats can also be picky about water, so I was concerned about them not wanting to drink the tap water in a strange city. Solution? We offered them fresh water every time we stopped, loaded up on canned cat food (Solid Gold Mackerel & Tuna Recipe in Gravy, not pâté. It mixes better), and I stirred a little extra water into each serving to dilute the gravy. They tore it up, and got some extra hydration in the process.
  5. We got them fancy beds. Kiko spent most of her time snuggled right up in hers with her little white paws propped on the armrest. Pye decided he did not like beds, and preferred to lay on the floor like the trash gremlin he is.

    Cat resting in a litter box in a car.

    Kiko, bellied up to the side of her litter box so she can see through the windshield. (Just ignore the dusty cat prints on the back of the seat.)

  6. We stopped more frequently. Not by a huge amount, either. We just threw in a couple of extra stops so we could make sure everyone was fed, watered, safe, and relaxed.
  7. I kept an eye on them (especially Kiko). Pye is a big, chill boy whose only cares in life are playtime, getting to put on his Adventure Suit, playtime, getting his face rubbed while he naps, making sure he has enough chicken stars in his bowl, and playtime. Kiko has her tiny anxieties, like the smoke alarm that makes her hyperventilate and the vet’s waiting room that also makes her hyperventilate. While my S.O. did all the driving, I was on cat duty to keep an eye on things and occasionally stick a hand in the back seat to scratch cheeks and rub ears. At one point, a huge semi came roaring up behind us, which startled Kiko and made her pant. At the next rest stop, we moved the litter box so I could hop in the back seat between them and help her settle down. A few minutes later, she was snoozing with her cheek and paws propped on my lap, and that was the end of her fear of trucks.
  8. We had health certificates. These are usually used for shipping or air travel, but it’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. If the car broke down and we found ourselves having to fly, or if a hotel required them before they’d let us get a room, we wanted to make sure we had documentation that they were both healthy, flea-free, and fully vaccinated.
  9. We had a list of pet-friendly hotels and emergency vets along the route. This is pretty self-explanatory. We didn’t want to be left hunting for a hotel in the middle of the night that’d let all four of us stay, and wanted the peace of mind of knowing a doctor was nearby in case anything went wrong.
A cat snuggled up in a hotel bed.

Pye, skooshed up on some cushy hotel pillows.

Really, the two of them were better behaved than either of us anticipated. While I did not think the gloom-and-doom predictions for this trip would be entirely accurate, I still expected them to have more tiny opinions about sleeping in strange places and being forced to hang out in a car for hours at a time. Kiko, who is usually the far less vocal of the two, spoke up regularly when she wanted more food or water. Pye, whose favorite hobby is wandering through the apartment talking to the furniture, napped the whole time and meowed exactly once — after we’d had to pull off a ten hour marathon and he was bored.

If we had to do this again, we would likely try to shorten the trip (as in, drive all thirteen hours at one go), install one of those cameras that lets you facetime with your pets, and pay for double-sessions with a pet sitter to make sure Kiko gets cuddled and Pye gets played with enough. Still, it’s great that traveling with cats wasn’t the disaster we were warned it would be, and it’s good to know that we can do this again if we need to!

Estimating Time Using Tarot

Tarot reading really isn’t a definitive snapshot of the future. Nothing can be, really. It’s pretty much like the CliffsNotes version of a potential future, should everything that’s currently happening stay pretty much the same. Even so, I’ve never really had a problem with getting very accurate readings. I’ve had people I’ve read for (does anyone else feel weird about calling them “clients”? Just me? Okay) send me messages in tears, because things panned out just like I reassured/warned them.

timetarot

The fact that the future is so malleable doesn’t mean you can’t try to get a time frame, though. Much the opposite, really — using tarot to estimate when something is going to occur isn’t terribly complicated. I’ll give you an example:

I was talking to someone who was antsy about their job. They were working on a project they weren’t able to abandon, for someone who was uncooperative and difficult. How long was this going to be like this? How long did they have to keep putting up with this situation?

I flipped a card.

“Ten months.”

A few months later, they came back. They’d been getting some hits on their resume, and one looked particularly promising. How would things turn out if they accepted?

I pulled a few cards.

“Eh. Looks like a lateral move, so… not great?”

The next day, they came back. After asking for more details, it looked like their pay wouldn’t change, their commute wouldn’t change, and their work wouldn’t be any more fulfilling. A lateral move, indeed.

A few months later, they came back again. It was nine months since the first reading, and they’d just been informed that, a few weeks from then, they were being transferred to a much better area, and a much less problematic project.

“Cool!” I said (though I really wanted to do a fist pump and some kind of touchdown dance).

Anyway, this shameless self-backpatting is just to illustrate that estimating time with tarot is pretty simple. There are a number of ways to do it:

Tell the Story

Some spreads can be read sequentially. They pretty much take the basic three-card Past-Present-Future reading and expand on it. When I was just getting into tarot reading after years of scrying and using pendulums, I was taught a pretty simple, yet effective, sequential reading.

You take all of the major arcana cards only, shuffle them, and draw one signifier. From the remaining cards, you draw three even columns. Then, starting from the top of the leftmost column, you read downward. The leftmost column reflects the past, the middle is the present, and the rightmost is the future. Within those columns, the cards reflect events or situations in chronological order from top to bottom.

While this won’t yield exact dates, it does give you an order you can use to approximate. So, if the progression is more important to you than the exact date, treating cards as a chronological progression may be helpful.

“Fire Burns Quickly…”

Using the suits and pips, you can get a more exact (albeit still not set in stone) idea. In this case:

Fire burns quickly, so swords indicate days.

Air blows less swiftly, so wands indicate weeks.

Water flows slowly, so cups indicate months.

Earth moves slowest of all, so pentacles indicate years.

Within that, the numerical cards indicate how many. So, the five of pentacles is five years, while the two of swords is two days. Some readers assign additional meanings to some cards, like associating certain suits with certain seasons, considering The Sun to indicate the solar year, assigning moon phases to certain numbers, and so forth. That’s a little outside of my scope here, since it varies from tradition to tradition.

Sometimes, you’ll end up drawing a court card, or one of the major arcana. In these cases, it usually indicates a blockage of some sort — things are not progressing, and will not progress until the person or situation indicated by the card is addressed.

See What Has to Happen First

Sometimes, cards are not meant to give a literal, numerical answer. In these cases, they can be read like the court cards or major arcana I mentioned above — as something that needs addressing, or the circumstances surrounding an event.

Quickly/Slowly

A lot of magic, divination included, is divided along a sort of loose binary. I’m not a fan of the feminine/masculine dichotomy referenced in a lot of older books, because it’s not particularly useful or accurate — I don’t really care what gender an herb, stone, or tool is. Active vs. passive, projective vs. receptive, these are a bit better at conveying useful information.

Tarot suits are often divided between active and passive. Fire and air are active, water and earth are passive. Swords and wands are active, cups and pentacles are passive. The active cards indicate… well, action. If a lot of them come up in a reading, things are moving! Events are likely to happen in a much shorter time frame than they would if a lot of passive cards surfaced.

Using Timing Cards

Using timing cards is simple. Either build a “timing spot” into whatever reading you’re doing and see what card lands there, pull a timing card separately as it’s own one-card reading, or, if you like the active/passive or story methods, look at the overall reading for clues.

If you don’t try to get a bead on the timing of events when you do a tarot reading, give it a shot. It can be really interesting to see!

Herb Haul! (Kind of.)

Well, less “haul” than “restock.”

I like restocking this time of year. Like I kind of got into in my post about cleansing your energy for fall, this is a really renewing time of year for me. It also has several other things going for it, like:

  • Being right after NoVA Pagan Pride, so I can buy my herbs there and actually see/smell what I’m getting. A lot of places don’t stock hard-to-find herbs (or particularly pungent ones, like asafoetida), so I have to get them online. While I’ve found a really good online supplier, I do still like to see my herbs in person.
  • Being right after summer. A lot of great herbs are ready to harvest in fall, but it’s also nice to get all of those summer herbs that’ve had a few weeks to dry.
  • Being right before winter, when I’m going to need herbs for teas and cough syrups.

Pride was the 29th of September this year. I debated vlogging it, but couldn’t really make myself do it. There’s just a feeling there, you know? I like talking to vendors and meeting people, I love the atmosphere. It’s too much fun for me to have to focus on getting video. My extroversion doesn’t do that great when I keep it behind a camera, it sucks the joy out of socializing.

But! I did use the opportunity to visit Phoenix Rising Apothecary‘s booth to stock up on a lot of the magical herbs I use most often, and a fair amount I need for a specific project. (If you’re up on your herb lore, you can prooobably take a guess of exactly what that is.)  So, while the idea is still somewhat fresh in my mind, I figured I’d make a post about what I decided to stock up on, and the magical properties of each herb.

Agrimony. I use it for banishing and uncrossing. It’s very efficient at returning evil to its source, it’s pretty much a mirror for other people’s bull. Some consider that “baneful” magic, but that’s in the eye of the beholder — in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with returning something you didn’t want, need, or ask for!

Asafoetida. This is another excellent banishing herb — possibly the strongest of them. I’ve had a tough time finding it, because many sellers don’t want to keep it in stock. It’s pretty pungent, with a smell that falls somewhere between garlic and skunky cannabis. It’s a very earthy smell, and not necessarily bad, but it is very strong. It disperses negative energy, banishes, protects, and exorcises.

Dittany of Crete. Dittany of Crete is a relative of oregano, and can be tough to find because it isn’t widely grown. I use it for divination, spirit work, and divination, and it is the primary ingredient in one of my most-used oils.

Feverfew. A nice protective herb. Also used to bring good fortune, and for spiritual healing. I don’t use it often, but it’s one herb I’d like to get to know better.

Fumitory. This is burned to exorcise, and sometimes used for prosperity magic. It’s one that came recommended by the seller, and I decided to give it a try. It’s likely to make its way into a banishing incense.

Lavender. If I could only have one herb for the rest of my life, lavender might be it. It’s cleansing, peaceful, draws love, protects, and is virtually indispensable in dream magic.

Lemon Verbena. This herb adds a boost to whatever herbal mixture it’s included in. It purifies, cleanses, draws love, and ignites passion. It’s also very good at flipping bad luck!

Mugwort. I use mugwort primarily for divination and dream magic. It’s also used for protection and healing. Before scrying, I wash my mirror or crystals in an infusion of mugwort in distilled water. (If that’s not practical, you can also use it as a spray and give them a little mist.)

Mullein. The hag’s taper. It frequently grew along the edges of properties, giving it a strong association with borders — for this reason, it’s frequently used by hedge witches. I use it for spirit work and psychic pursuits, but it’s also used for strength, protection, and healing. It is also sometimes used as a substitute for graveyard dust.

Star Anise. I use these fragrant, star-shaped seed pods as power herbs. Keeping four at the corners of your altar is said to boost the power of your spellwork. They’re also used for good luck, and keeping one on you can ward off the evil eye and prevent misfortune.

Vetiver. I love vetiver. The warm, earthy spiciness is my favorite fragrance, and most of my favorite perfumes use it. It’s useful for hex-breaking, protection, prosperity, and luck. It’s also a very efficient power herb. Some use it for hexing, but, from my experience, it is better at breaking them than laying them.

Wild Cherry Bark. I have an idiosyncratic relationship with wild cherry bark. I never really used it until a few years ago, when I used dream magic to divine the ingredients for an oil I wanted to make. I didn’t know anything about wild cherry bark when it came to me in a dream, but I looked it up… and it was perfect. Most sources I’ve seen list it as a love herb. I’ve used it in an offertory capacity, for healing, and for animal magic.

There are still some others I need to get. (Cinquefoil, for one, and centaury!) For now, this is enough to get me through the next couple of ideas I have kicking around in my head, plus some extra for any magical emergencies.

Autumn Rituals for Getting Your Energy Right

Not gonna lie, it doesn’t really feel like fall. Like, as I’m typing this, I’m also sitting in a tank top and shorts, drinking ice water while I wait for my place’s maintenance dude to come fix the air conditioner because it’s supposed to be near 90°F.  Butts.

Nevertheless, the autumnal equinox has passed, so it is (at least technically) fall. It’s the end of the year, Samhain’s coming, the veil is thinning, and the weather will hopefully be cooling off soon. All of these things make this the perfect time to let the past year’s badness go, cleanse yourself and your stuff, and get yourself ready to face the next season right.

Do a Solid Fall Cleaning

Everyone’s familiar with “spring cleaning,” but I love fall cleaning. Besides, most places seem to benefit from doing a good, heavy, deep cleaning more than once a year, you know? So, let’s get ready to turn this into a ritual that will cleanse more than just baseboards and the dark, forbidden area under the fridge.

In a lot of magical practices, hoodoo especially, floor washes are a pretty important tool. You sweep your house, fill your mop bucket, add the floor wash of your choice, do the appropriate spiritual bits, and mop your home from back to front. You can buy floor washes prepared, but I usually skip them and add lemon juice or herbal infusions to mine instead.

(It should also be noted that my apartment is tiny, so I get by with one of those reusable spray mops more easily than an old-school mop and bucket situation. I feel a little more confident in spray mops if I know exactly what’s going into the reservoir, so I don’t end up with a solution that’s going to damage my reservoir or pads. YMMV.)

So! If you don’t have a ready supply of dried cleansing herbs in your cabinets, here are some purification herbs that are likely ready for a fall harvest:

  • Garlic (Though you might want to skip putting this pungent root in a cleaning solution, just saying.)
  • Parsley
  • Fennel
  • Rosemary

Take some of the herbs of your choice (there is no set amount — choose however much feels appropriate), and steep them in water. After about twenty minutes of steeping and cooling, strain and add to your cleaning solution. If you like, you can also add a few drops of the cleansing essential oil of your choice, or a couple of glugs of white vinegar. Since this is more for spiritual cleansing than physical cleaning, actual soap is not necessary. However, if you do choose to add essential oils, add a little bit of soap to allow them to mix with the water rather than float on top.

Open all of your windows to let the autumn breeze through. Turn on some light-hearted music. Sweep your floors to remove dust, then mop them thoroughly from back to front. When you are done, light some purification incense and carry it through your home, ensuring the smoke reaches every corner.

Note: Some witches specify that you should carry incense or fuming herbs clockwise through your home. I’ve always used clockwise directions to bring things to me, and counterclockwise to banish them. For purification rituals (i.e., getting rid of things you no longer want around), I would walk in a counterclockwise direction.

Light It Up

You know what’s awesome about fall? Bonfires. Sure, they’re great on a beach in summer, but let me tell you, as someone who has often ended up living in places too dry to have a summer bonfire without taking out half a national forest, fall is where it’s at. It’s cooler, so the heat feels amazing. It’s not as dry, so it’s safer. It’s beautiful, and chill, and there can be cocoa and s’mores if you feel like it.

Now, there are roughly a million spells out there that pretty much consist of:

  1. Write a thing on a leaf or piece of paper.
  2. Light it on fire.
  3. Victory!

Unfortunately, this is not always a super idea indoors. Even if you have a fireproof vessel, cinders from burning paper and leaves can be caught on the air and blow directly into your collection of heirloom table linens and then how are you going to explain yourself at dinner over the holidays?

(No, really, I’m asking. I have never owned table linens. I have a studio — I barely eat at a table.)

For this, all you really require is a quite, safe place for a small fire, non-treated firewood, and a writing implement, preferably non-toxic. Build your fire and sit in front of it. Feel the warmth on your skin, and look into the heart of the flames. Visualize everything you want to let go of from the past year — mistakes, hurt feelings, bad vibes. It’s okay if these still resonate within you. It’s okay if you feel angry, or even cry. Pick up a leaf, or, if there are no leaves around your area yet, use a piece of paper. Write down all of the things you want to release. When you are finished, feed them into the flames.

If you can, after the bonfire has burned, scatter the ashes either in your garden, or somewhere else where the earth will appreciate them. (Wood ash helps increase the pH of soil. Many plants love it, but avoid using it around those who prefer a more acidic environment.)

Just as a forest fire is sometimes needed to help clear away deadfall and encourage new growth, let this fire clear away what no longer serves you and allow you to grow. Let your past regrets, hurt feelings, and negative energy be transformed by the flames, and used to nourish the things you want to bring into your life.

Let the Wind Carry It Away

For this, you need a clear place to stand. You might have to go to a park, or on a hike, to find a suitable hilltop. You might live in a place with roof access, which also works. You just need a space where you can stand and let the breeze blow around you.

This can be performed any time, but there’s something particularly magical and transformative about autumn breezes. The feeling of the last of the warm summer sun on you, interrupted by a cool breeze just feels like change. If you live in a cooler area, you might even smell the faint perfume of a fireplace heralding the approach of winter.

Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, arms held out at your sides. Close your eyes, and visualize all of the energy you want to let go of as dark smoke clinging to your skin. Wait for a good, strong breeze — as it blows past you, let it carry that dark smoke away. Let it lift that energy from you, carrying it into the sky, into the trees, into the sunlight, where it can be made harmless.

If you do this in a wild place, leave a little token of thanks to the spirits of the area. It can even be something as simple as a shiny rock, some flowers, or a sip of water poured on the ground.

I really love fall. Summer is beautiful, but the heat means it’s far from my favorite holiday. Now, if only the air conditioner guy could get here sooner…

 

A(n Actual)”Starter Witch Kit”

Note: This post contains some affiliate links. These links let me earn a small commission for each sale, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for helping to support this site, as well as rad people who make neat stuff.

After Pinrose chose to pull their Starter Witch Kit amidst a heap of (justifiable) controversy, it got me thinking.

“Self,” I says to me, “If you were going to put together a kit for a beginning witch, what would you put in it? If someone asked you to design the Starter Witch Kit, how would you have done it differently?”

And then I started brainstorming.

While I object to the attempt to use witchcraft as a way to sell perfume samples, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with including perfume as a way to help beginning witches start to connect with witchcraft on a practical level and begin practicing regularly. I mean, I use perfume and cosmetics as part of my practice. Besides, just look at the origins of the word “glamour!”

So, if Pinrose had drafted me to come up with a kit for baby witches, here are the things I would choose instead of their sage/rose quartz/pastel tarot deck/perfume samples combo.

 


 

The Herb

herb

As someone who has taken part in smudging at every pow-wow I danced at, sage and I go way back. That said, it isn’t really part of my practice now — I prefer to fume with other herbs that I have a different relationship with. I’m also not really sure that a cleansing herb is necessarily the best choice here. Don’t get me wrong, learning to do that is important, but there are so many other ways to cleanse things/yourself/your house/your snotty room mate that it seems like a waste of a slot. If I were going to point a new witch toward my favorite herbs to work with, in general, I’d pick:

Cinquefoil. Also known as five finger grass, cinquefoil has as many virtues as it has “fingers.” It’s used in money magic, love spells, luck spells, travel magic, and for protection. For a beginning witch without a spacious herb cabinet, cinquefoil packs a lot of versatility (and punch) in one little bag. Get some wildcrafted cinquefoil from Harmony Hills Boutique here.

Clary sage. I love clary sage. It’s probably my favorite herb to work with. It’s calming, soothing, and good for divination and trance work. I’ve also used it for cleansing. Divination is a pretty key skill to learn (and not one that many beginners feel confident in) so I’m of the opinion that some nice, fragrant clary sage is a good place to start. Get some clary sage from Humming Ferns Botans here.

Mugwort. Mugwort is another solid divination herb. It’s also used for protection, strength, and healing — all things it’s good to develop some magical skill with. Get some organic mugwort from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rose petals. It’s said that rose can stand in for any flower a spell calls for. While not everyone agrees with that, they’re still really versatile. They really shine in love magic, but love magic encompasses a lot more than people give it credit for. Love magic aside, they’re also used for healing, protection, and divination. Give roses as offerings, infuse them in oil, burn them as incense, the world’s your oyster. Get some rose buds or petals in either red or pink from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rosemary. Similarly to roses, rosemary is said to be able to stand in for any herb. This is because, again, it’s really versatile. Love, protection, exorcism, purification, beauty, you name it. Rosemary is also very easy to come by, and this ubiquity means it’s helpful to develop a strong working relationship with it. Get some organic rosemary from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

 


 

The Crystal

quartz.jpg

I mean, rose quartz isn’t bad… It’s just very obvious that it was only chosen to match Pinrose’s pastel tarot deck. Boooring. If I had my way, I would’ve picked:

Clear quartz. It’s clear, it’s pretty, it’s inexpensive, and it can be used for basically anything. It’s also available in the U.S., so obtaining some doesn’t have to cost a child laborer their eyesight. Pick up a clear quartz from Bliss Crystals here. 

Lodolite. Lodolite is basically clear quartz +, and is found in all of the same places. It should be noted, though, that “lodolite” is kind of a meaningless term — it just means mud stone, and isn’t really an actual, scientific term. That’s why you’ll often see it called things like garden quartz, scenic quartz, inclusion quartz, shaman quartz, or named by its particular inclusions (chlorite quartz, for example). Anyway, with that out of the way, lodolite is an excellent meditation aid. The best specimens can look like they have entire tiny forests inside, or swirls of minuscule galaxies. Hold one and stare into it long enough, and you’ll see where it takes you. Pick up a tumbled lodolite from Gem Realm here. 

Amethyst. Amethyst is good for divination, relaxation, mental magic, dream magic, and lots of other things that involve calming yourself and cultivating mental discipline. As I mentioned previously, this is something that can be challenging when you’re first starting out — amethyst can help. Pick up an amethyst from Bliss Crystals here. 

Black Tourmaline. Black tourmaline is a great stone for grounding, which is something that’s often overlooked. It’s not as exciting as other magic, but it’s probably the most important skill to pick up. It’s also used for luck and protection, two things pretty much anyone can use more of. Pick up some black tourmaline from Bliss Crystals here.

Citrine. Citrine is another variety of quartz, but it’s not as easy to find as it might seem. There are a ton of inexpensive pieces of citrine on the market — unfortunately, most of them are pieces of low-grade amethyst that has been heat treated to give it a yellow-orange color. This isn’t to say that baked amethyst isn’t any good, but it isn’t exactly citrine. Citrine enhances joy, brings luck, and clears negative energy. I know a lot of tarot readers who keep a piece with their cards. Pick up a natural citrine from Bliss Crystals here.

 


 

The Tarot Deck

deviantmoon

Okay, so. We’ve got an herb, a crystal, now for the deck. I feel like I’ve talked about divination a lot here, but that’s because it’s something that’s really important to me and my practice. Divination is more than just trying to predict the future — it can tell you a lot! If I were choosing a tarot deck to show a newbie, I would choose:

The Rider-Waite Tarot. Okay, this is not necessarily the most exciting choice, but that’s why I picked it. The RWT is pretty much as close to a bog-standard tarot deck as you can get, and, until you’re at the point where you can intuit card readings, interpret artwork, and so forth, it’s helpful to get used to using it. A lot of sites and guides to tarot card meanings are based on this deck. Here’s some more information on the Rider-Waite tarot deck. 

The Deviant Moon Tarot. I’m not gonna lie, I completely picked this one just because I like it so much. I use it all the time. The artwork is strange and wonderful, and I love the odd world in it. It’s also not too far off from the RWT in terms of how the suits and trumps are depicted. It’s a beautiful, strange deck with a dark feel, and I’ve never gotten anything but helpful, perceptive readings from it. Here’s more information on the Deviant Moon tarot deck. 

The Animalis Os Fortuna. I use this deck in a religious context, because the animals used in its imagery lend it an added layer of meaning. Not only does a card have the meaning it typically does in a standard deck, but there’s also the animal to consider — the cunning of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, whatever it is manta rays are good at. For this reason, it’s a helpful deck for learning to interpret cards intuitively, and for divination outside of tarot’s usual scope. Purchase the Animalis Os Fortuna deck here.

 


 

The Perfume

november

I have a lot of perfume. Like, close to an embarrassing amount of it. I love it, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. Scent evokes memory, changes mood, and creates an atmosphere. With that said, if I had to pick a suitably witchy perfume, I’d pick from:

Incantation by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Described as “vetiver, dark woods, crumbling and burnt black sandalwood and a drop of lemon rind,” Incantation is a sweet, dark, woody scent. The lemon rind just barely comes through, giving the dark woods a brighter, almost floral character. Purchase Incantation here.

Standing Stones by Red Deer Grove. Standing Stones is another woody fragrance. It has notes of balsam, cedar, dragons blood, cardamom, bergamot, and musk, among others. It has an almost smoky, incense-like character, and is one of my favorite unisex fragrances. Purchase Standing Stones here. 

November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest by For Strange Women. Somehow, For Strange Women has managed to perfectly capture the smell of a forest in autumn. It has notes of black tea, bergamot, mushrooms, soil, and dried leaves. This scent has a very pleasant earthiness, offset by the bergamot and faintly spicy smell of autumn leaves. Purchase November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest here.

French Oakmoss by For Strange Women. Oakmoss is a power herb, and this perfume uses it to good effect. The dry earthiness of the oakmoss is offset by the clean scent of lavender, and the fresh green of moss. I like to wear this one while meditating or doing spellwork — the scent is subtle, but powerful. Purchase French Oakmoss here. 

 

And there you have it, a build-your-own Starter Witch Kit, pretty much guaranteed to fit your needs better than a perfume company’s marketing ploy.

 

Is Bti water safe to drink? Or, Natural Pest Control for Paranoid Plant Keepers.

So, plants.

I have a lot of them. What witch hasn’t kept a pot of something on a windowsill somewhere, you know? In a previous incarnation of this blog, I talked about everything from trying to grow a rosemary bush, to collecting cacti, to that time my aloe plant absolutely would not stop reproducing. In short, I really like plants.

Unfortunately, my place doesn’t have any outdoor space to speak of. (None that I can use, anyway.) As a result, I have roughly one plant per 20 ft², and counting. The trouble is, not all of them are cacti — I also have a number of tropical plants that become really, really unhappy if they aren’t kept moist. I live in a very humid area, which they seem to enjoy, but…

Fungus gnats, though.

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My poor, bedraggled fern…

Fungus gnats like moist soil. They deposit their eggs in it, and, before you know it, you’ve got masses of annoying, tiny gnats swarming around all of your plants. They’re not the only bugs that really dig on some wet dirt, either. When you combine plants that need to be kept moist with high humidity, it’s pretty much the ideal breeding ground for all kinds of tiny, annoying pests that are super enthusiastic about living in your pots.

Gross.

I try to use natural pest control. My space is small, so I have to minimize my ability to inadvertently come in contact with pesticide. I also have two cats, so I really, really need to keep their exposure risk as low as possible. Since I don’t really have an outdoor hose/spigot I can use, any watering or diluting I do has to be done in either my kitchen or bathroom sink. Also, I try to avoid releasing any more pesticide/fungicide/herbicide into the sewer system than I absolutely have to.

My apartment is not really a place to bust out the big guns. 

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All of this is to say, I became really curious about what happens if you accidentally drink water deliberately infested with insect-killing bacteria.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly have a compulsion to go shotgunning entire liters of Bti water, but I was curious. What if some of it gets on me? If I’m going to be working with it in my kitchen, what are the odds I’m going to come down with some kind of weird bug disease? If the water gets on my hands and I touch my face, is it going to start falling apart Jeff-Goldblum-in-The-Fly style?

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got:

What is Bti, anyway?

Bti is short for Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (say that five times, fast). It’s a bacteria that is used as a natural form of insect control, because it produces toxins that certain insect species are susceptible to. Mosquitoes are one susceptible group, so you usually see Bti marketed in the form of mosquito dunks and granules to control their population.

How’s it actually work?

Short version is, the bacteria, bacterial toxins and all, are mixed into an inert matrix and molded into a kind of brick, granule, or donut shape. You dump ’em in some standing water, the bacteria are slowly released to begin doing their thing, insect larvae ingest them, the toxins make them stop eating, they die.

For houseplants, you can keep a mosquito dunk in your watering can. When you saturate the soil with the treated water, it kills some types of soil pests (like fungus gnat larvae) in much the same fashion. They take in the toxins, they die, voila.

How safe is Bti?

Here’s the complicated part — Bti pretty much only affects insects, and only specific insects, at that. Vertebrates don’t have the same digestive mechanisms insects do, so they aren’t affected. Some products even state that they can be used in bird baths and animal watering troughs to keep them from being a vector for mosquitoes.

Bti products have an abundance of cautionary instructions, including claims that they should not be used in water intended for human consumption. Swimming pools, however, seem to be okay. The EPA states that Bti poses no risk to humans or other, non-insect animals, but it’s best not to take that at face value for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

So, is Bti safe in drinking water?

If Bti products are safe to use in swimming pools, and the EPA says that it poses no risk to humans, why shouldn’t Bti products be used in drinking water? There are a couple of reasons:

  • Bti products aren’t just Bti. They are also made up of proprietary inert ingredients and binding agents that may not be great for human consumption. The EPA’s ability to say that Bti itself doesn’t pose a risk to humans does not necessarily transfer to a product in which Bti is one of many ingredients.
  • The producers of Bti products did not shell out the astronomical sums of money required to perform a full-scale human safety assessment. Properly performing product safety tests on human subjects is difficult, expensive, and takes a very, very long time. For liability reasons, they cannot guarantee your safety if you chug their stuff.
  • Bti is usually tossed into stagnant water. The producers of Bti products don’t want to be liable for someone who gives themselves cholera because they thought a couple mosquito dunks would make their water safe.
  • Some Bt strains can produce beta-exotoxin, which is toxic to basically everything. Strict quality control guidelines have to be in place to make sure that these bacterial strains and their toxins don’t contaminate finished products. Bt products intended for Canada, Europe, and the U.S. are legally required not to contain beta-exotoxin.

That said, the EPA isn’t the only organization with things to say about Bti. The WHO has a whole PDF about it for the purposes of developing quality guidelines for drinking water. In it, they conclude:

Bti itself is not considered to pose a hazard to humans through drinking-water. Therefore, it is not considered necessary or appropriate to establish a guideline for it. However, the absence of contaminating bacteria or other impurities cannot be assured under currently allowed production practices and post-production testing requirements as quality assurance and quality control measures. Therefore, stricter and more comprehensive requirements for production and post-production testing and better defined criteria for purity and safety are recommended to minimize human health risks from possible drinking-water exposures.

Short version: Bti is safe. The other stuff that ends up in water along with it may not be. We need stricter QC guidelines and better production methods before we let anyone go around drinking it.

But can you drink Bti treated water, or not?

I mean, I wouldn’t.

Ultimately, if it is only Bti in the water, it’s probably alright. However, there is absolutely no way to guarantee that in your typical home/garden setting. Because of the small potential for quality control issues (recalls can happen, even for innocuous products) and the fact that Bti is used for stagnant, nasty water, it is not a great idea to drink it. So, while you don’t need to bundle yourself in a HAZMAT suit every time you so much as touch the stuff, you should still wash your hands after using it, don’t inhale the dust, and avoid hosting any homebrewed Bti keggers anytime soon.

 

… And this is why I shouldn’t rush.

I celebrated Mabon the other day. Like most of my celebrations, it was small, short, and simple — lighting candles at my altar, sitting quietly, giving thanks, remembering the meaning of the season.

All of which are actually super difficult to do if I’m feeling anxious.

I have a tendency to try to push through things when I’m not feeling well. (Let’s be real, though. If I waited until I felt well, I’d never get anything done.) I’ve long held that rituals are not necessarily for me — true piety is observing them even when I’m not personally getting anything out of it. Prayer does not always have to be a refreshing, uplifting experience to have value. Sometimes even meditation is difficult work, but it’s work that I have to do.

The thing is, the ritual structure I follow has a kind of built-in way to tell if I’ve completely effed it or not. Tripped over my words too badly? I’ll get told. Unacceptable offering? Oh, I’ll hear about it. This isn’t something that’s been a problem before, luckily — even when my offerings have been small and simple, I’ve always been given signs that they were good enough.

It doesn’t help that it’s a structure I’m not entirely familiar with yet. It’s a bit more complex than what I used for most of my life (read: winging it), and the formality of it trips me up on occasion. To be honest, if you had come to me a little over a year ago and said I’d be doing things this way, I probably would have asked what you were smoking.
I digress, though. That’s a story for another time.

Anyway, for this ritual, I was confident! I had these fancy little cakes, I placed them in the offering bowls, I sat and said the words… and I rushed through them because holy butts anxiety sucks super hard and I felt like I was about to die.

And then came the divination.

I use tarot cards for the divination portion of my rituals. The particular deck I use (the Animalis Os Fortuna deck) is pretty helpful here. In addition to standard tarot meanings, the animal imagery of this deck gives it extra layers of meaning that allow the cards to be interpreted in a way that’s more conducive to this particular type of ritual divination.So I shuffled, drew, and…

Not only did I get called out, I got called out with The Moon. The warning, anxiety-indicating Moon, of all things. Like a big, black-and-white finger pointing right at my clenched hands and racing heart and going, “WTF?”

Crap.

I concluded the ritual, now wondering what I’d done. Sure, I had tripped over my words, but corrected myself. I’d said the wrong words at some points, but corrected that, too. But, while I’d been willing to offer fancy cakes, there were two things an impending anxiety attack kept me from offering — my attention, and my time.

I ate something, drank a little water, and waited for the feeling to pass, resigned now to having to repeat the ritual. I had no cakes to offer this time, just clean water and some sweet oil. But I took my time, I spoke well, and I let the anxious feelings dissipate.

And this time, even with my offerings as simple as they were, it was accepted.

There is no physical offering valuable enough to make up for an unwillingness to give my time and attention.